What is website accessibility?
Making a website (or app) ‘accessible’ means making sure it can be used by as many people as possible regardless of their abilities or disabilities. At least 1 in 5 people in the UK have a long-term illness, impairment or disability. Many more have a temporary disability.
This includes those with:
- impaired vision
- motor difficulties
- cognitive impairments or learning disabilities
- deafness or impaired hearing
Put simply, a website is rarely natively accessible because the internet users have historically wanted websites to have fanciness and exciting experience – but all these visual enhancements come at a cost of making it almost impossible and unsuitable to use or navigate for those with a disability and use a computer in a different way other than using sight, a mouse and keyboard. Websites need to be made with accessibility in mind from the start.
For example, someone with impaired vision might use a screen reader (software that lets a user navigate a website and ‘read out’ the content), braille display or screen magnifier. Or someone with motor difficulties might use a special mouse, speech recognition software or on-screen keyboard emulator.
Accessibility means more than putting things online. It means making your content and design clear and simple enough so that most people can use it without needing to adapt it, while supporting those who do need to adapt things.
The website or app needs to take these things into consideration and provide access to the content, whether through changes to the website’s interface, or through the provision of the content by another means on request if it is not possible to deliver it through the website.
Some sectors, including the UK Public Sector, have a legal requirement for their websites to meet set accessibility standards. Currently, the standard required by the Public Sector is called WCAG 2.1AA and is a set of measurements that a website must meet in terms of how it has been constructed to work with assistive technology as well as meeting good accessible design principles.
Why not use a simple plugin to do it?
Put simply, adding a plugin to a website to achieve accessibility is completely missing the point. It is not a quick fix – in fact many charities and groups that represent those with disabilities agree that these ‘accessibility plugins’ actually create more barriers than they solve. Adding a layer on top of a website to address the fundamental design, layout and content shortfalls or errors in its accessible nature demonstrates a lack of understanding of the requirements.
More details on why ‘accessibility plugins’ are not the solution to meet the needs of those with disabilities or the WCAG2.1AA requirement by reading the article ‘Does your website accessibility solution use a plugin that can be turned on and off?‘ by Aubergine and ‘Why accessibility overlays do not improve site accessibility‘ by Scope.
Why is it important?
Put simply, why wouldn’t you make your website accessible to everyone? From a commercial perspective the ‘Purple Pound’ – the amount of money spent within the disability sector, is over £250bn. With 1 in 5 people having difficulties using websites for various reasons, you are immediately excluding 20% of your customers. Why would you do that? People with disabilities have money they want to spend and buying online is actually often more beneficial to those with disabilities that make going out to shops a challenge.
But equally, it’s the right thing to do and it’s not hard – just a different way of thinking and a shift in mindset plus a bit of technical change. Not that much effort to add 20% to your business…
How can I make my website accessible?
Firstly, do not use a free plugin that you install on your WordPress website that claims to solve all the accessibility needs. For the reasons explained above and in other articles, they are not suitable and create more barriers than they fix.
If you have a WordPress website – there are more accessible themes coming on to the market – some of the native WordPress themes already have excellent accessibility built into them.
You can also buy websites from expert web developers, such as Aubergine, who have a developed an accessible websites platform.
You will also need some tools to check the web pages’ accessibility regularly. There are free checking tools such as the excellent WAVE by Webaim browser checker that you can install on your browser and check each page for accessibility issues. There are also paid-for services that scan the entire website and produce a helpful report of any issues – the scans can be scheduled, too. At Aubergine, we use Pope.tech.
Remember, you also need to manually check the site – read through each page to make sure the wording is clear and the visual spacing of text and headings are not too jammed together. Also remember to use headings correctly on the page, rather than choosing them by their looks. Here’s a helpful article on ‘best practice accessible page styling and formatting’.
Checking the website regularly will mean you don’t miss anything and any alterations can be done without creating a huge list – it’s very easy just to put off those little website edits to another day but you may be making it really hard for someone if you don’t address them as they arise.
Website accessibility guidance
Getting web accessibility guidance on best practice website accessibility and both how to start it and what to do moving forward is the first step. If you need that little help to get started, get in touch with us and we can provide you with some helpful direction.
You can also find me on Mastodon Social where I share web accessibility tips each day to help improve the internet for those who face greater challenges through disability.
Come find me on Mastodon.